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Navy readies for funeral of bomb squad expert killed in Iraq

Sailors stand outside Hangar 5 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as they await the arrival of a charter jet carrying Chief Petty Officer Patrick L. Wade. - Brian Kelly
Sailors stand outside Hangar 5 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as they await the arrival of a charter jet carrying Chief Petty Officer Patrick L. Wade.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

OAK HARBOR — Keri Wade gently placed her hand on her husband’s flag-draped casket, then quickly stepped back.

Chief Petty Officer Patrick L. Wade had come home from Iraq.

In a silent ceremony not seen at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since perhaps the Vietnam War, a sailor who died in combat returned to the Navy base amid a somber spectacle of military precision and honor.

Wade, a member of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 at NAS Whidbey Island, died on July 17 when a roadside bomb in Salah Ad Din killed the sailor and fellow bomb squad expert Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey L. Chaney. Petty Officer David A. Hauxhurst was seriously injured in the explosion.

More than a thousand sailors lined Charles Porter Avenue to salute the sailor as his casket was taken to a local funeral home.

Wade, 38, grew up in Wisconsin. The youngest of five children, he joined the Navy in 1987 and hoped to become a SEAL, a member of the Navy’s fabled branch of commandos. He didn’t qualify for the SEAL’s BUDS program, so he joined one of the Navy’s elite bomb squads instead.

So far, five sailors from NAS Whidbey have died in Iraq, all since April.

Monday morning, Wade came home to Whidbey. It was a rare return for the Navy base, said base spokeswoman Kim Martin, because the bodies of military members who die in combat are usually taken to their hometowns for the funeral instead of their duty last assignment. Wade’s remains were flown to Whidbey from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and his ashes will later be scattered over Bear Lake near Manawa, Wisc.

Wade deployed to Iraq with his EODMU-11 detachment a little more than two months ago. He returned to Whidbey from aboard a Dassault Falcon 20, a French-built jet owned by Kallita Charters, a Ypsilanti, Mich.-based company that contracts with the Department of Defense.

Roughly 70 members from Whidbey’s bomb disposal unit lined the tarmac, standing three sailors deep, as the jet approached from the northwest.

Wade’s wife, Keri, and other members of the Wade family watched the jet land on Runway 14 from the inside of the NAS Operations Building, a nondescript building next to the base’s air traffic control tower. The family, led by the sailor’s wife, walked slowly to the tarmac after the aircraft landed just before 11 a.m.

Many moments passed in silence as the crew of the charter jet lowered the casket to the tarmac; Keri Wade stood near the cargo door, a Navy officer and senior enlisted man at her side.

Civilians and sailors lined the windows inside the NAS Operations Building to watch; two women on the second floor could be seen wiping their eyes with a tissue as the casket was lowered from the aircraft and a dozen family members waited near the rear of the plane, some sharing hugs.

Moving the flag-draped sailor from the plane to the hearse passed quickly. Six sailors in dress uniforms carried the casket, with footsepts shuffling slow yet silent, to a white Cadillac hearse parked nearby.

As sailors held their salutes while the casket was loaded into the hearse, a seven-member honor guard fired their M-14 rifles three times.

After the 21-gun salute, Lt. Cmdr. Craig Nelson, a helicopter pilot, played Taps.

An uncanny silence followed, largely due to a mandatory quiet hour that had been imposed for the arrival of the sailor’s final flight to Whidbey. The only sound was a warning buzzer in the distance, and then, the sound of the car ignition as the driver started the hearse.

Led by two police officers on motorcycles and three squad cars with lights silently flashing, the hearse and two SUVs carrying family members drove slowly off the base. Military police closed off sidestreets at numerous intersections.

At least 1,000 sailors, according to a Navy estimate, lined both sides of Charles Porter Avenue in their work blues, khakis and desert camoflag uniforms as the hearse made its way across the Navy base.

When the hearse got to town, it was met by approximately 50 people, most of them children, waving small American flags.

Jeannie Lupien stood on the side of Highway 20 near Burley Funeral Chapel with her daughter, Guin, 6, and Michael and Maddie Kooch, also 6.

“We have a lot of friends fighting the war,” said Jeannie Lupien.

“We have our family over there fighting. It’s important to just show support, friendship, support and love,” she said.

Kristan Martin said her husband, Lt. Ken Martin, was the officer in charge of the detachment that lost three sailors in Iraq in April. That detachment group returned from Iraq on July 3.

Seeing the procession, she said, made her relive “what happened to us in April, and feeling what every wife feels.”

“I’m just so sad for the families who have lost loved ones in the war. Just feeling the weight of that, the impact of one single person. We need to remember Patrick Wade, his wife Keri and the girls, and never forget,” Martin said.

A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor. The public is welcome to attend.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is planning a private memorial service on base on Aug. 1 for Wade and Chaney.

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